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French students in new rebellion

This article is over 15 years, 10 months old
Protests and occupations against the right wing government’s CPE labour law swept France’s universities last week. Danièle Obono, a student at the Sorbonne university in Paris and member of the anti-CPE mobilising committee, writes in a personal capaci
Issue 1992
Danièle Obono (Pic: Duncan Brown)
Danièle Obono (Pic: Duncan Brown)

Over half of the 82 universities in France are taking part in strike action against the Tory government’s plans. Twenty five universities are in occupation.

The anti-CPE movement at the Sorbonne started a week ago – we organised our first general assembly of students on Friday 3 March. Over the next few days more students started getting involved, so we decided to go on strike and occupy the university.

The occupation started on Wednesday of last week. We blocked off the Sorbonne overnight so that we wouldn’t need lots of students having to sleep there overnight.

Around 100 people occupied the site, while the rest of us organised demonstrations outside in support of them. There were a few clashes with the police outside and by Friday night the atmosphere was getting tense.

The Sorbonne has had special status since the May 1968 student uprising, so the police had to get permission from the university authorities and the ministry of education to raid the site.

The police went in on Saturday morning at 4am with tear gas and batons and arrested people. The Sorbonne has been closed down by the university since then – a move designed to prevent more students from getting involved in the movement.

This has caused us some problems – it’s difficult for us to find places to meet and talk. But we’ve set up information points around the city and have had a good response from students. They’ve all seen what happened and want to know more.

There are big demonstrations planned against the CPE on Thursday and Saturday of this week.

We’re now holding our general assemblies in a nearby building. On Monday of this week we discussed our reaction to the prime minister Dominique de Villepin, who attacked the student anti-CPE movement on national television on Sunday.

Villepin vowed to press ahead with the CPE and tried to divide students from the rest of the young people. He argued that there was no reason for students to oppose the CPE because it was not designed for us, but for the unemployed youth of the suburbs.


He is saying that black and Arab youth in the suburbs don’t deserve good working conditions. Why should we accept that?

The CPE will affect students too. We have to go and find jobs once we finish our studies. Some of us are already working while studying. We already face very poor working conditions.

We see ourselves as part of the same movement as those young people who rose up in the suburbs last November and we resist attempts to divide us.

The student uprising has to be seen in the context of other recent attacks on young people. Young people across France feel that enough is enough.

The Tory politicians are saying we’re just foolish students who don’t know what we’re doing. But the battle of opinions is being won by our movement – we’re defeating their arguments, politically and even on economic grounds.

The media were originally hostile to us, but this has recently changed. The turning point was huge demonstrations across France on Tuesday of last week. A million people took to the streets in joint anti-CPE protests called by students and the trade unions.

Public opinion has now turned against the CPE. At first people thought maybe it could tackle youth unemployment, but now the majority think it’s a bad thing. People at our general assembly were shocked by Villepin’s remarks. We’ve heard similar arguments before, but never said quite so crudely.

In one of the first general assemblies we called against the CPE, Sorbonne students voted to support all the people in social movements who face repression, including the movement in the suburbs.

A majority voted to support young people facing trial after the November riots. We also had a long debate on Monday about violence and how we should react to the police raid. The first thing we did was condemn the repression. The experience of occupation has strengthened our sense of solidarity with all the movements.

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